February 27, 2014

cloth diapers.

After about 10 months of cloth diapering, we certainly feel like experts. It's amazing how much you learn about the cloth diapering world once you're changing them a bazillion times a day ;)

I've had a couple cloth diaper posts sitting in my drafts for a while but have never pulled the trigger to finish them. I guess because there are a lot of great resources on the Web for new-to-cloth parents who are looking for information (see list below) and I wasn't sure that I had anything useful to add to the (multitudes of) conversation on the topic. I do periodically get asked about our cloth diapers, though, so thought that a general overview/update on how they get used in our lives would be good :)

I find that a lot of people are curious/fascinated about cloth diapers, whether they're parents or not. It's funny that something that would have been so mundane only 50 years ago is now such a hot topic in parenting circles. I remember one conversation I had with my Mom while I was pregnant...talking about cloth diapers, my Mom said, "I remember your Nana thinking disposable diapers were so wonderful when we first had you. She would love to change your diapers because the disposables seemed so much better to her after years of cloth diapers, diaper pins, leaks and laundry." Well, let me tell you now, if the choices we had faced when deciding on how to diaper involved any sort of diaper pin, honey, I would have been in line at Target as quick as my Prius could get me there to buy as many cartons of disposable diapers as my cart could carry. I can't imagine the boundless irritation that trying to pin a diaper on a wiggly baby would have created in my life and I am so glad that we don't have to do it that way anymore. (If, by chance, you are reading this and you use diaper pins in your clothies, BLESS YOU. Please, teach me your ways of patience and virtue.)

Answers to some common questions I get about how we live with cloth diapers:

How many do you have? 
We have a total of 25 diapers but we started with 15 or so. Once we got into the daycare routine (5 go to daycare every day), we decided that having a few more to throw into the rotation would make my laundry schedule a little lighter. If you don't have a child going to daycare and/or don't mind doing a load of diapers every day, you can probably get by with 13-16 total.

What kind do you have? There are so many choices!
 All of our diapers are all-in-ones made by Bumgenius. We have a mix of Elementals and Freetimes and even though the Elementals are the ones we started out with, we like the Freetimes SO much more. I originally picked the Elementals because they are made with organic cotton inserts and we do like them a lot, they're just not our favorites. After switching to the Freetimes (post-redesign of the Elemental of which we were really not fans...), we have found that they fit Alden's string bean body better and are easier to clean (since the inserts are only sewn on one side as opposed to both sides in the Elemental). The Freetimes also dry faster.

How often do you wash? Don't you do so much more laundry?!
I now do a load of diapers and wipes (we use cloth wipes, too- most of the time. maybe I should write a post on that, too) every other day or so. Some weeks I'll do a load two days in a row but other times we may be able to go two whole days before we need more. A lot of it has to do with the rhythm of when they get used and what time of day they get washed.

I wash them on a hot cycle, with an extra rinse and the soil level set at high. We use Charlie's powdered laundry detergent and I love it. Although, I'm kicking around the idea of making my own the next time I run out...we'll see what happens. Every few loads I throw some vinegar in as well to help keep the diapers smelling nice. I also strip our diapers roughly every 3 or 4 months to keep them in top condition. I dry ours in the dryer (a lot of people only line-dry but the Elementals would take 8 years to dry on the line & Mama don't got that kinda time ;) on the medium heat setting for an hour and a half.

I (like a crazy person) kinda enjoy laundry so it has never been a chore that has bothered me. Well, I'm not sure my Mom would say the same about my teen years-but as an adult, it's one of the chores I really and honestly don't mind doing. (unless we're talking about folding sheets...then, I would rather scrub the floors with a toothbrush) So maybe if you really can't stand doing the laundry, then cloth diapers aren't your best bet.

Why do you choose to make it harder on yourselves? Changing diapers is so time consuming already. 
First, I don't feel that cloth diapering takes any more time than using disposables would. I never have to make a trip to the store for diapers (which means I also never have to remember to stop and pick up diapers, which is nice) or take the time to make an online order/set up an online subscription for them to be delivered. I do laundry all the time anyway, so adding one more load every other day has just slipped right into the routine and I don't even notice it anymore. Also, with today's cloth diapering technology, I can change Alden's diaper just as quickly as someone using a disposable. Actually, on the few occasions we have used disposables for one reason or another, it takes me longer to put on the disposable because I'm so used to the cloth! I think it's all about what becomes your normal.

I will admit that now that we are firmly in the "solid waste" stage (sorry, non-parents. babies are gross ;), there is heavier time commitment on our part to get the diapers ready for the wash. This is because we use our diaper sprayer to clean out the solids (into the toilet) before throwing them in the wash. Although, I will point out: You are technically not supposed to throw solid waste containing disposable diapers in the trash either. A close reading of laws regarding solid waste disposal in most areas will show that, really, we're all supposed to be dumping solid waste into the toilet before tossing diapers in the trash.

What's your number one reason for using cloth?
This is hard, because I think there are two reasons that battle for the number one spot.

The first is cost. Cloth is simply cheaper. We'll spend, over the course of Alden's diapering years, thousands of dollars less than we would have using disposable diapers. Add in the fact that we can use these same diapers for a second (or third, if you have them quickly enough and take care of your diapers) child and the savings climb even higher. You buy the cloth diapers once and then all you spend is the cost of laundering. Since we have high efficiency machines and buy laundry detergent in bulk (plus, my potential future homemade laundry detergent plans), our cost to launder is very low on a yearly basis.

The second (but, really, tied) reason is that we are passionate about controlling the amount of trash and waste we create and contribute to the world. We never have trash bags full of disposable diapers in our trash cans which means there are less disposable diapers sitting in landfills. We try to use cloth wipes at home as much as we can so we reduce the amount of wipe waste we create as well. We're also not contributing to the continued manufacturing of disposable diapers, which uses lots of chemicals and resources. While, yes, the cloth diapers we own were also manufactured using resources as well, we feel like the cost is offset by the fact that we only buy them one time, as opposed to many times a year. We generally have a goal to make sure our recycling bin in full at trash time and that our garbage can is as empty as possible- cloth diapering really makes sense for this aspect of our lives.

There are lots of other reasons, too. I don't like the idea of wearing a pair of weird-smelling plastic underwear all day, so I figure Alden appreciates the soft cotton as well. I want to expose his skin and body to as little chemicals as possible (especially important now that we know he has especially sensitive skin) and cloth diapers allow me to do that. We have had less blowouts and leaks with cloth diapers (though we wouldn't have known that before Alden was born and we did have to buy these hemp inserts to increase nighttime absorbency). Also, they're just really darn cute :) A little baby booty in a fun cloth diaper cover is smile-inducing no matter what!

Are there any drawbacks or things that have been more complicated than you thought? 
We had some challenges last year with keeping Alden's skin dry enough to prevent him from reacting to his urine. He has very sensitive skin, though, so most babies don't need any extra troubleshooting in this area. We also know now that Alden's food allergies were contributing to his diaper-area skin issues and since we have gotten those under control, we have seen MUCH less irritation. We ended up adding a fleece liner to all of his diapers (simple fleece from the fabric store, cut into diaper-sized rectangles) to help; since the fleece wicks away the moisture, it has made a huge difference in his skin.

Also, if your baby ever needs any kind of medicinal cream, diaper rash cream, barrier ointment, etc. there are only certain ones that are considered cloth diaper safe. Over time the use of ointments and creams can cause a residue to build up in the cloth of the diapers and will start to decrease absorbency. This can be fixed by stripping your diapers (we use the Dawn process, described here) but stripping takes a lot of extra time so using cloth diaper safe products is a great way to keep your diapers in top condition. We use plenty of non cloth diaper safe products on Alden since he has so many recurring skin problems but since we use the fleece liners, it keep the products from touching the actual diapers and we don't have a problem. Lots of people buy or make diaper liners to use when their baby needs a rash cream or barrier ointment (there are disposable options you can buy or you can cut up an old t-shirt!).

Now, here's a list of some great online cloth diaper resources:

An overview post at The Art of Simple on cloth diapering.
Another great resource post at The Eco-Friendly Family.
Cloth Diapering 101 at Kelly's Closet.
Some general information from CottonBabies (where all of our diapers have come from)
Great, overall resource. My Cloth Diaper Stash.

Also, look to any local parenting groups or diaper groups in your area for great face-to-face information on starting to cloth diaper or for any tips and tricks they may have. This is also a great way to find out if there are good options for buying good-condition used diapers in your area. Lots of families choose to pass their diapers along to families who need them for MUCH lower prices than new cloths will cost. I know in our area, we have a fantastic parent community and I often see people selling their like-new cloths for 75% off of retail prices.

Please share this post with anyone you know who's interested in cloth diapering!

stay tuned for updates on Alden's 11th month (oops, a little late on that one), yogurt making and bread baking, and some other fun stuff.

much love, L&N

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